Fresh off a sweep of three primaries Tuesday, GOP front-runner Mitt Romney headed to Pennsylvania hoping to knock Rick Santorum out of the presidential race in Santorum's home state.
Santorum represented the Keystone State in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate for 16 years, but Romney's campaign is not ceding the state's April 24 primary to him.
The Romney campaign opened up a headquarters in Harrisburg last week and has four paid staffers on the ground. On Wednesday evening, Romney told a crowd in the Philadelphia suburb of Broomall, "Please help me defeat Barack Obama in November!"
Although his schedule remains in flux, Romney will campaign today in Pennsylvania and attend a fundraiser in Harrisburg on April 17, in addition to other events in the state next week.
"There is certainly going to be a fight," Republican strategist and Romney supporter Chris Bravacos said.
Although Santorum leads in several polls there, Romney has been steadily gaining. In an April 3 Quinnipiac University poll, Santorum led Romney 41% to 35%, with 6% of the 647 likely GOP primary voters being undecided.
A March 14 poll showed Santorum leading Romney 36% to 22%.
Brittany Gross, a spokeswoman for Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC, said the group has put $480,000 into ads in Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island running until Monday. The states all hold primaries April 24.
Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman, a Santorum supporter, said the former senator's allies know an onslaught of negative media could be on the way, but they are confident their candidate will do well in his home state.
"Romney and the establishment are doing the best they can to convince people that he is inevitable," but voters also understand that Santorum still has a chance at the nomination as well, Corman said.
"We have to make sure it is still a race," he said.
Santorum called his home state a "must win" even before his loss in Wisconsin on Tuesday.
Speaking Wednesday outside Pittsburgh, he said he is forging ahead with his campaign.
"People in Pennsylvania know me. We've got a strong base of support here, and we're going to work very, very hard," he said, referring to the upcoming primary.
"Then we're going to get into May. There's movement in Texas to make Texas a winner-take-all state. You throw those 154 delegates on our ballot and all of a sudden this race becomes a very different race."
It may be too late. Romney won 86 delegates for winning primaries Tuesday in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Santorum got the other nine.
Romney now has 658 delegates, putting him on pace to reach the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination by early June. Santorum has 281 delegates; former House speaker Newt Gingrich, 135; and Rep. Ron Paul, 51.
Phil Musser, a Republican strategist who supports Romney, said the onus is on Santorum to win the Pennsylvania primary.
"The reality is there is no such thing as a must-win state for Mitt Romney anymore," he said. "The burden falls squarely on Santorum."
Contributing: The Associated Press
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